Having brought this discussion of the new way and the old to this point, it is time to recapitulate what has been said. First, it was noted that the United States began as an experiment in reason and virtue. Furthermore, this experiment was based on a clear and specific idea of rational and moral philosophy that in many ways was unique. In following generations, however, these ideas became philosophically confused although essential aspects have been retained to a significant extent in the character of the people. Now, among modern philosophers and influential writers there is a recognizable movement to reject the old ideas of thinking and behavior based on rules and laws of traditional logic and to promote new theories that are described in terms of movement and change, such as “living”, “organic”, “transcendental”, etc. Followers of this current of ideas feel themselves engaged in a common cause of freeing mankind from the clutches of the old way and opening to the world a new vision and a new consciousness. The rejection of the “old” reasoning and the “old laws of thought” has become, for many, the common denominator on which the hopes of new era are being built.

            A new development of utmost importance is occurring in modern philosophy. By rejecting traditional logic and the laws on which it is based, the meaning of reason appears to be undergoing a radical change. A radical change means a new understanding of reason and new understanding of reason means the old one is being replaced. Insofar as the original American government actually was an experiment in a specific rational theory, a fundamental change in the meaning of reason amounts to a repudiation of the essence of democracy as first conceived at the beginning of our nation.

            The problems created by the radical redefinition of reason and virtue is serious and critical. If the original American experiment actually failed, then nothing is gained by pretending it is a success. If it has not failed, we could well be in the process of needlessly destroying a precious historical heritage through continuous, needless disparagement of the idea of reason on which it is based. A serious controversy over the nature of rational and moral theory creates an equally serious dispute over the essence of human nature and the type of government best suited to meet human needs.

            As new theories gain momentum, some resolution of the conflicts the generate become urgent. Should the essence of the democratic experiment as originally understood by the men who founded this nation be preserved or is it now time for a new experiment grounded on new ideas of reason and new approaches to morality that reject traditional logic and the classical laws of thought? The American experiment begun by the Founding Fathers is in question and every citizen should be concerned. If one experiment in reason is to be replaced with another, we should make the effort to discover what the difference implies.

            However, the difference between the “old” reason and the “new” cannot be evaluated until first it is possible to tell the difference and here is where the real problem lies. The Founding Fathers thought of their experiment as something special, something unique. Their idea of reason was in many ways new and fresh. It was also repudiated in part by the influential persons in the following generations and more sophisticated theories adopted. The common sense idea of reason was popular in intellectual circles for only a short period of time, and yet it is precisely the characteristics of common sense reason that are singled out as representative of the “tradition: of Western thought. Is this valid?

            On looking over the modern philosophical scene, obviously these are many new theories of “reason” and “value”. On reviewing history, clearly there are many, many more “old” theories of rationality and the ethics of right reason. The distinction between the “new” and the “old” in not as simple as many contemporary writers seem to imply. How reliable is the scholarship of those who urge the rejection of “traditional” or “formal” or “Aristotelian” ideas of reason when they speak in such sweeping generalities? What is the real problem and what is the real difference? If the “new” reason is to be promoted and the “old” replaces, WHICH reason is WHICH, and how do so we know what we are getting? These questions need to be explored and these ideas developed so that they can be discussed in a more accurate and informative manner.

            The purpose of this book will be: (1) to defend the belief that the essence of the American Experiment was a specific, common sense idea of reason that assumed certain ethical standards; (2) to elaborate upon the different between the “old” common sense ideas of reason and virtue and the new “transcendental” theories; (3) to discover to what extent the essence of the Founding Father’s experiment is being rejected; (4) to determine whether such a rejection is justified; and (5) to decide, based on the evidence presented; whether we need radically new concepts of moral and rational philosophy to solve the kind of problems we face now that the world has become more crowded and complex.

            The method used in the project will be to establish a specific theory of reason that can function as an objective standard against which other theories can be measured. By isolating specific rules and presuppositions, a certain criteria can be posited and used as a model. In this manner it becomes possible to recognize which theory is saying what and to discover how radical the new theories are in terms of other theories that were, in their day, also considered new. This information can then be used to evaluate the success of the now old fashioned notions of the Founders of the United States on common sense and virtue and to speculate, with a degree of confidence, on the consequences of rejecting those ideas and adopting radically different theories.

            But first—exactly what was the US Founder's idea of reason? Was it in any significant way radically different from modern theories?


The End of Chapter One: For a copy of the footnotes please contact me directly.